Needles Like Noodles

It is common knowledge that health care in America is controlled by robber baron corporations of one stripe or another. Every time I sit down for a chemotherapy session, it costs my insurance company nearly $20,000, mostly due to high drug costs. Certain pills I take for nausea are $800 apiece. While the cost of complementary care (the holistic approaches we are using <i>en masse</i>) is not as stratospherically insane, it can still be prohibitive for regular working stiffs, largely because it’s not covered by insurance. For example, four intravenous Vitamin C&K treatments a month are running us right around $1000. Acupuncture, too, typically runs around $100 per treatment. The needles are not what hurts in conventional acupuncture.

That’s why the community acupuncture movement in this country is such a godsend. Community acupuncture centers charge only $20-40 per treatment, according to a person’s ability to pay. No questions asked, just offer what you can and sit down in a comfortable chair for some Chinese medicine TLC. For the first time in my life, I can afford to have acupuncture at least once a week. And unlike some of my other therapy encounters, my experiences at Sarana Community Acupuncture in Albany are always nurturing, tranquil immersions into the essence of true healing.

Sarana has retrofitted a nondescript strip mall office space, replete with acoustic tile ceilings and fluorescent lights. But of course those lights are never turned on. The space is always softly lit by full-spectrum bulbs enclosed in paper lanterns. The patient is seated in a Lazy Boy-type reclining chair or cot (about 4 to a room) surrounded by batik wall hangings and bamboo or rice paper room dividers. Relaxing music from all over the world floats in the background – everything from shakuhachi flutes backed by didgeridoos to spare solo piano pieces and selections from the Amelie soundtrack – all selected to sooth and smooth the senses.

The acupuncturist on duty enters, crouches down by your side, and asks what you need. Maybe you’d like support for your immune system or liver detox. You tell her, she touches your wrists to take your “pulses”, consults your chart, then inserts the needles just beneath the skin in the appropriate points.

Doctor-patient confidentiality in the well-peopled room is not a problem; just whisper. All the communication in the facility is conducted in hushed tones, as if you were in a sacred space. And even though the practitioner tends to from three to ten patients at a time, I’ve always received the utmost attention to my condition. The center feels like a safe and tranquil health haven, and I’ve always managed to drift into peaceful sleep even with several needles in place.

Sarana employs four fully trained physicians, all women. Tatania, glowing serene earth goddess; Pam, focused and deeply empathetic; Ellie, sparkly and insightful, with infectious vitality; Mari, youthful yet with a quiet grace and confidence that belie her age. All these sisters of mercy bring great compassion and expertise to what they do. They are much more than excellent healers; they feel like good friends.

The Sarana experience illustrates how even in health care, big benefits can come in small price packages. The book about this movement, <i>Acupuncture is Like Noodles,</i> proposes that acupuncture centers, “needle houses” if you will, should be like noodle houses – inexpensive, accessible everywhere, and highly nourishing, while providing a sustainable, not lavish, living for the practitioner. An excellent example of how good values can generate good value. Visualize the rest of the health care industry following suit.

For more info, or to find a community acupuncture center near you, consult the list of clinics at this website: www.communityacupuncturenetwork.org.

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